Indianapolis police face steep staffing shortage, must focus on priorities

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is continuing to grapple with a serious staffing shortage.

The city is down at least 300 officers as of Aug. 14, despite a new recruit class bringing a wave of fresh faces to the department in late July.

Numerous attempts have been made to lure people into the police ranks. Officials are attending job fairs, school events and even using their own employees to recruit — offering a $2,000 incentive for each person they refer who completes training and the academy.

The staffing shortage, which has persisted in IMPD for years, is also plaguing other police departments across the country. All of whom are competing for the same, limited workforce.

The issue doesn’t show signs of immediately going away. As such, police leaders say they’re making plans to adjust.

Tough decisions

The ranks are still short 301 sworn officers as of Aug. 14, according to police department leaders. The head of the police union, Rick Snyder, has been vocal about the issue and says the shortage the department is even steeper, reporting a gap of 322 officers. Indianapolis police officials said they were not sure how Snyder reached that figure. IndyStar has reached out to Snyder for clarification.

The department employed 1,542 sworn officers as of Aug. 14. The city budget allows for 1,743 employees. American Rescue Plan Act dollars budget for an additional 100.

IMPD Asst. Chief Chris Bailey emphasized that while no major changes to staffing have been made at this point when such a shortage lingers, the agency is compelled to review where resources are better served.

Part of the discussion to address the gap, Bailey said, may come down to adjusting units.

“There are certain units that we’d really like to do, and they do great work for the city of Indianapolis,” he said. “But when you get into a staffing crunch, you have to make decisions and meet your priorities.”

Those priorities, Bailey said, are answering 911 calls, investigating major crimes like homicide and rape, engaging with the community and keeping up high levels of training.

“Staffing decisions going forward have to be based on those priorities,” Bailey said.

Snyder has said the department is looking to disband its arson unit and transferring those detectives to fill patrol officers, making those investigations the responsibility of the Indianapolis Fire Department.

When asked about the prospect of removing the arson unit, Bailey said nothing has been confirmed yet.

"We have to be able to have open and honest discussions with our workforce and sometimes when we do that, the messages get skewed. I think that’s what happened here," Bailey said. "Every person that was in arson two weeks ago is in arson right now and they will be for the foreseeable future."

Recruitment and staffing issues persist among some public service fields

Recruitment and staffing woes only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it's not just a problem facing police. Other public service careers are feeling the crunch as well, an expert said.

Education, nursing and social work are all fields experiencing problems hiring and keeping employees, according to Stephanie Whitehead, a criminal justice professor at Indiana University East.

"The prestige of the job isn't the same as it used to be," Whitehead said. "There are so many requirements, especially in education and nursing, that people just don't feel like it's worth it anymore."

Salary is one of the biggest barriers when it comes to hiring police officers, Whitehead said.

In an aim to combat that problem, the City-County Council in its budget this year boosted starting salaries for first-year officers by 16%, up to more than $61,000. Hogsett bumped the pay even further this spring, increasing the police department’s starting salary to nearly $72,000.

Indianapolis' recruit-officer pay is substantially higher than many peer cities in the midwest, at $72,000, exceeding that of police departments in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan.

To incentivize officers to stay, the city will offer a retention bonus of up to $2,500 at the end of the year.

But you can't talk about recruitment without talking about retention, Bailey said.

Keeping people on the force

The department's main strategy in keeping veteran officers is ensuring they're equipped with the latest policing technology, such as the rollout of public safety cameras and license plate readers installed throughout the city.

"As we work toward finalizing the 2024 budget, we hope to continue our progress to make sure that we have the best equipment," Bailey said.

On Aug. 14, Mayor Joe Hogsett presented the city's 2024 budget to the City-County Council. If passed, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department would see its highest level of funding yet at $323 million, up from last year's $313 million. It comprises the largest part of the city budget, about 21%.

The budget includes money to fully fund and staff the department, along with the salary increases for first- and second-year officers, and the rest of the officers will see a 3% cost-of-living raise as part of the 2024 collective bargaining agreement covering many city employees.

IndyStar reporter Ko Lyn Cheang contributed to this article. She can be reached at or 317-903-7071. Follow her on Twitter: @kolyn_cheang.

Contact reporter Sarah Nelson at 317-503-7514 or

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indianapolis police: Staffing crunch is leading to decisions for future